By Kyra Morris, contributing editor | Charleston is one of the fastest-growing, economically-diverse communities in America. Some people say we are the victims of our own success. Strong job growth in manufacturing, local business growth and people moving to Charleston in record numbers are a reflection of our success and quality of life.
As is often the case, with success there are also costs. The infrastructure for our road system throug
hout Charleston County is severely lacking.
In 2004, a referendum passed for a half cent sales tax that would fund road and highway projects in Charleston County. The projects at that time included:
Johnnie Dodds Boulevard, the Glenn McConnell/Bees Ferry intersection, Folly Road/Maybank Highway, Harbor View Road, the James Island Connector Loop, U.S. 17/Wesley Drive, Palmetto Commerce Parkway, Folly/Camp Road, Bees Ferry Road, Future/Northside Drive, Maybank Highway, Bee Street, plus mass transit and greenbelt preservation.
Since 2004, all of the listed projects have either been completed, are in process, or were subsequently taken off the list upon further research and community input. The track record for the county’s expenditures and commitments to the transportation projects speaks for itself.
On the November 2016 ballot next week, there is another referendum to “complete the penny” – to add another half-cent sales tax. A representation of the projects included in this referendum and the costs are listed below:
Improvements and Infrastructure component includes approximately $900 million to fund:
- Airport-area road improvements
- Widening Dorchester Road from Michaux Parkway to the county line
- Improvements to the intersection of U.S. Highway 17 and Main Road, and Johns Island mobility
- An annual allocation for resurfacing, paving, bike and pedestrian facilities and intersection improvements
- Widening the Glenn McConnell Parkway
- James Island intersection and pedestrian improvements
- Northside Drive re-alignment at Ashley Phosphate Road
- Rural road improvements
- Congestion infrastructure improvements for the Crosstown, Savannah Highway and the Ashley River bridges
- Savannah Highway capacity and intersection improvements
- Improvements to S.C. Highway 41 from U.S. Highway 17 intersection to the Wando Bridge
- Drainage inadequacies – specifically West Ashley
- Widening Highway 78
Mass Transit initiatives to improve mobility — $600 Million
- Bus Rapid Transit system designed to help relieve I-26 congestion, capital improvements for CARTA buses, and improved comprehensive bus service
Green Space – preservation and environmental quality of life — $210 Million:
- Greenbelt preservation to sustain and complement already existing sites in the County
There is strong support and agreement within the municipalities that these projects are vital and needed now. The disagreement is over how we’ll pay for them. What is the state’s responsibility and how much should/will they pay? A sales tax increase makes sense because of our vast tourism industry, but it also has a consequence to locals and will affect seniors and low-income families.
Transparency of the use and allocation of the funds raised is another issue. The council voiced not only a commitment to the projects but also a commitment to the public. The funds for each project will be allocated only after the final public approval process, and there should be a method for the public to track and monitor the use of the funds along with the project’s progress.
These projects are needed now. Will it benefit us to wait another two years until the election in 2018 to determine what the alternatives may be – and possibly still end up with the half cent sales tax? The approval of the referendum is when the fundamental planning begins – engineering, permitting and public meetings for each project. This part of the process takes its due time. Therefore, a delay in the beginning for two years could really represent a delay in the actual implementation of the project for four years. The congestion and some of the inherent unsafe conditions will not go away – and the costs will assuredly increase over this period.
I am not sure of all the answers, and I am also a local consumer. On the other side, I have experienced first-hand the need for these projects. I am willing to take my part in the responsibility for improving and sustaining the quality of our community and our lives. I will vote for the completion of the penny.